Thursday, May 16, 2013

Me and Aldaris (p8): Day 1 of Starcraft

I hate math.  Well, not basic math.  Any math involved in accounting isn't that bad.  I'm just talking about algebra/trig.  Maybe if I had a different teacher I would like the class better, but judging from how the mess I'd made on the kitchen table with all my study books and notes, probably not.


I slammed my head into my hands.  Why was this so frustrating?  Was it really that hard to figure out the compound interest formula?  I knew the formula by heart, so why was solving for "t" so hard?  A little bit of my brain, somewhere right near the back, mentioned that I probably should have been paying attention in class instead of reading The Gulag Archipelago.  Of course, I had few regrets.  Surely reading the misadventures of Georgi Tenno was more important than higher math that I know for a fact I will never use in life.  I'll probably be quoting Gulag for the next sixty years.

"Buh, math, you are my enemy!" I wailed, breaking out into song.  "How much I hate you!  I wish I could make you suffer in just the way you torment me!"

Wa-blam.  Head into the table in surrendering exasperation.  I seriously needed more coffee.

"...I take it you are occupied."

I shot right back up, jolly as all get out and grinning like a doofus.  It was Aldaris! 

"Well, yeah," I thought back at him.  "But I was just about to take a break.  Sometimes I have to even leave a math final to fate.  Anyway, I assume you want to see Starcraft now."

"You assume correctly."

"Okay.  Give me a sec to grab everything."

Grinning like a kid on sugar, I ran up the stairs and grabbed all my materials.  I hadn't edited more than an hour of Heart of the Swarm, but I could always show that later.  I grabbed my adventure bag, which already had the Starcraft discs in it.

"Dude, you should have talked to me sooner." I think, hoping he was still listening.  "I had to give the projector back to Dad."

"I was not going to subject myself to your nonsensical notions without first confirming what it is you claim." Aldaris said plainly.  "Unfortunately, all has evidence confirmed your point.  As for the projector, I believe I have a device of this kind on board."

"Oh, okay.  Hopefully it has a USB port.  I have a USB cord so that's not a problem.  Okay, I think I'm ready."

The now familiar blue mist picked me up again, and once more I was on Aldaris' ship.  I should really ask him what its name is.  This time I didn't appear on the bridge, but in one of those storage rooms.  That had to be what it was, or else the big piles of earth stuff on one side of the huge room made absolutely no sense.  Piles and piles of random things filled the entire right side of the room (if you're facing away from the door).  Big piles of chairs, colored pencils, sales catalogs, and a broken VCR only a few of the miscellaneous whatnots in the pile that extended way over my head -- and none of it looked handled too gently.  I found myself overcome by an urge to dig through that awesome pile of randomness, but I resisted.  I'm here to show off Starcraft, not play around.

The doors opened at that point, and in came Aldaris.  Seeing him, it suddenly occurred to me that I was just now meeting the real Aldaris.  Before he'd just been a confused Protoss in a completely wonky situation.  Today he was Judicator Aldaris in the flesh.  Whatever he'd been going through before, all that was over and it was clear his mind had settled back int his regular, prideful confidence, and it was that Aldaris, standing straight as a rod, that greeted me.  His gaze was like the gaze of an Aztec king, with all the wisdom and cruelty of someone who as led and ancient empire and can have me executed at any moment.  I'm not quite sure why he filet the need to be all intimidating.  It didn't even work.  I just grinned.  Now this was the real Starcraft character everyone loves to hate.

"Annyong!  You're cheerful today!" I say, completely genuine and free of sarcasm.  "Good to see you're adjusting to things better."

Aldaris just glowered, pointing behind me.  "You may set up there."

From all the human objects Aldaris had gathered, he managed to find several useful things.  One was obviously the projector, and it faced the back wall as it rested on a round metal table that was meant for outdoor use.  Charlie'd even thought to get me a seat, and I was grateful for it, even though it was nothing more than a tattered leather footrest.  I'm not picky.

It turned out there was a USB port on the computer, and I was able to set it up to project on the left side of the wall across from the door.  The wall was gold-ish instead of white, so it was going to end up coloring everything a weird tinge, but it was clear enough to see what was going on.

"Okay," I say as I set up the computer.  "Main screen, turn on!  Now let me just get the game disc out of the bag.  So dude, I have to warn you that I have to use my laptop's battery to power the projector, and that's going to make the battery wear out sooner, especially since I have to use my old laptop, because that's the one that's got Starcraft installed on it.  Since I don't have anywhere to plug this in, that's going to have to be enough for today."

"You could not spare the time to acquire a portable power source?" Aldaris glared.  "You had more than enough time to do so."

"Aldaris!" I exclaimed.  "I'm here because I find this interesting, not because I'm your servant!  I'm not here to cater to your every whim.  Besides, power generators are smelly, noisy, greasy things.  I didn't figure you wanted one on your ship."

Aldaris didn't comment.  With an authoritarian glare, he simply placed down a large, folding chair thing a fair distance away -- everything about his motions clearly said he had no intention of being anywhere near me.  I shrugged it off.

"Oh hey, I was talking to the other guys, and Toby has a theory on why you're here instead of your universe.  You'll find this interesting.  I think you said you don't know how human years work, but according to the game manual, you're 740 years old.  Since you only came about five hundred years from the past, that would make you two hundred and something years old where you come from.  And since it's a paradox that there would be two of you in the same universe, you got booted out here."

"I remain uninterested in the irrelevant  ponderings of a novelty shop entry-level employee." Aldaris commented without emotion.  "With the computing abilities of my vessel, I do not require idle speculation from humans."

Toby worked in a shop?  Huh, I'd been talking to him for weeks on the net and I didn't think to ask him that.   That makes me a horrible friend, doesn't it?

"Oookay, whatever."  I tapped some of the keys.  "Before we begin, let me warn you of a few things.  First of all, Starcraft was a game Blizzard came up with sort of on a break from Warcraft, and they didn't expect it to be popular.  Thus, certain aspects of it are very lazy.  For example, for the first Starcraft, most of the cutscenes don't at all match or have anything to do with the story.  They're just there to look cool.  Well, except for the introduction.  They fixed that in Brood War, but just keep in mind that sometimes Blizzard got lazy, so if something seems off, that's a possible reason."

Aldaris said nothing, so I continued.  "Also, keep in mind that this game is dystopian and from a human perspective.  Don't be offended by the context, because so far as we know aliens don't actually exist at this point."

"Exactly how long must I endure this game?"

Snarky, snarky.  I clicked on the Starcraft icon.  "Uh, well, since we're just going for the plot, not as long as it could.  We can get through the Terran missions in less than twenty minutes since I know most of the important cheats.  The Zerg and Protoss ones will probably take longer because it gets progressively harder.  Then there's Brood War which'll probably take slightly longer than this game, and then the videos of Starcraft 2.  I edited those videos so you don't have to see the gameplay at all."

This seemed to please Aldaris, and for the moment I caught the faintest melancholy from him.  Of course, the second I thought of that, Mr. Cranky Telepath picked up on my thoughts and scowled.  I quickly turned away and hit the Starcraft icon.  The Brood War screen popped up, flashing Artanis', Kerrigan's, and DuGalle's faces before going into the main menu.  I clicked on single player, original Starcraft, then my game user name (Moody), and then okay.

"Terran missions...." I said, more or less to myself.  "And skipping the tutorial.  Just be aware that what you're about to see isn't going to be pretty.  It starts from the attack on Chau Sara and goes to Tassadar's sacrifice.  I'm sure it'll bring back memories of a lot of things you probably don't want to think about."

"Your words are excessive and unnecessary." Aldaris straightened in his chair to a dignified posture.  "There is nothing within this time period that I am not willing to face.  Continue."

I clicked on the first mission, that consisted of meeting up with Raynor.  It didn't take long to finish.  I let Aldaris hear the part where Raynor meets the Magistrate and then hit the enter key.

"There's not much plot to this level." I explain.  "It's an early level for noobs to get used to building different structures, so I'll just skip the rest of it.  Though I did think there was a little more to the plot than Raynor just saying hi."

"Does this game concern Raynor's history very much?" Aldaris says, bored and examining his fingernails.

"He's only the main character of the game." I snort.  "Besides, knowing all this background stuff sets up the context of later stuff."


"Hey, it's a human game.  It's going to have a human protagonist.  Though it would be cool if they showed Tassadar's perspective."

"Just get on with it."

I typed in the cheat code, and we made it through the entire Terran missions without one more quote from the one 'Toss peanut gallery.  He was pretty contemplative the whole time, though I could feel like waves of summer heat his anger at the part where Mengsk abandons Kerrigan on Tarsonis.  I guess he didn't know that part.  But we made it through Raynor's escape from Korhal, and Mengsk's ending cinematic speech.

"Never in my life have I witnessed a thing so unsettling."  Aldaris stared at the projection like a zombie.  "Many of those who worked for me translated that very speech."

"It's accurate then?"

"To the very word.  As much as I can recall, in any case."  Aldaris turned to me, curious.  "This game implies a greater passage of time then what it portrays, correct?  Raynor claimed he had saved Kerrigan many times, yet this is not shown."

"Yeah.  You have to remember that this is a game, and in games plot is way less important than gameplay and graphics.  Though it would feel a lot longer if I weren't cheating."

"Why did Raynor not go in to save Kerrigan on Tarsonis?  It should have proven a simple enough task to disobey Mengsk.  He could have saved the entire Sector much grief."

"We don't know what he was doing at that point, or how far away he was.  Or maybe Starcraft is just wrong, and Raynor found out about what happened afterward.  And you saw what they got off the Confederate discs.  The Zerg wanted any human telepath.  It didn't necessarily need to be Kerri's."  I clicked the mouse on the hydralisk icon.  "So Charlie, you ready for the Zerg missions?"

"What did you call me?"

I jumped, leaning away as if that would get me away from the pissed off Judicator.  Crap, that guy can go from nice to charging bull in two seconds.  I didn't mean to say his nickname in front of him, but it just came out.

"Uh, nothing...nothing."  I stammer.  "That's just what me and the guys call you when we're talking on facebook.  That way if anyone comes across what we say, they won't think we're talking about an alien.  Y'know."

Aldaris' eyes narrowed, and he raised from his chair for full effect.  "Bethany, do not feel that you are my only source for information.  It is merely convenient for me to allow you here.  Only with moderate difficulty could I find a replacement for you on your 'internet'.  You may either refer to me by my name or title, or you may find something else to do with your time.  Do you understand?"

"Uh, yeah.  Sure."

"Now continue."

I wince, but do as he says.  I wish I hadn't said anything, because he sure wasn't going to like hearing the Overmind speak.

"The Overmind?" he heard my thoughts.  "What joy."

"Awaken my child," the computer sounds the Overmind's voice.  "And embrace the glory that is your birthright."

I sneak at glance at Charlie (I will call him that as much as I want...when he's not paying attention), and the look on his face is priceless, no less full of horror and disgust for not having a mouth.  I quickly turned away before he picked up on my thoughts.

"The Overmind is not going to be present for every Zerg briefing, is he?"

"No, just most of them.  And since this next mission isn't plot important, you're gonna hear him again really soon."

"I do not understand.  Starcraft would have no way of knowing if this is how the Overmind communicates."

I shrugged.  "They had to make up something.  The probably just picked whatever sounds the most evil."

I was able to skip a couple of missions, like the one where the cerebrate takes down a bunch of Confederates.  I guess that mission was there to prove that Mengsk really was going after Kerrigan.  Pretty soon we got through the mission where Kerrigan emerged from the chrysalis.

"Did you notice that the very first thing Kerrigan did as a Zerg was disobey the Overmind?" I asked.

"Of course I noticed. It was only painfully obvious." Aldaris didn't even bother turning to glare at me.  "Now continue."

Really, why in the world was I helping this guy?  Oh well, it's not like I didn't know what I was getting into.  Little did I know how bad it was going to get.  Really, I should have seen this coming.  But it's honestly been a while since I had last played the original Starcraft single player, and I completely forgot about it.  We got through the missions where Kerrigan fights Tassadar alright, and other than mentioning how it was weird Tassadar said Kerrigan used to be honorable (maybe they'd met when Kerri was a human or something), Aldaris didn't say anything.  I mean, I could feel him get increasingly agitated, but it's hard to blame him for that.  When your history is turned into a game, it's hard not to be agitated.

But then it happened.  It was that one mission where you have to stop Zeratul from escaping the Zerg.  You know, times like this it would have proven prudent to do a test playthrough before showing it to Aldaris.  Granted, I don't know how I would have hidden the mission briefing from him, but at least he wouldn't have found out about this:

"Behold, my long silence is now broken, and I am made whole once more." the Overmind's voice said through the little speakers on my laptop.  "The cunning Protoss have dared strike down that which was immortal. For the Protoss who murdered Zasz are unlike anything we have faced before. These Dark Templar radiate energies that are much like my own, and it is by these energies that they have caused me harm. Yet shall their overweening pride be their downfall. For when the assassin Zeratul murdered Zasz, his mind touched with mine, and all his secrets were made known to me. I have taken from his mind the secret location of Aiur, the Protoss Homeworld. At long last, my children, our searching is done. Soon we shall assault Aiur directly."

I wasted valuable time staring at the screen in shock, precious time I should have spent hiding under the table, or maybe running away as fast as I could and hiding until Aldaris calmed down.  But no, I did the dumbest thing possible: look over at Aldaris.  He was fuming, and his head was encompassed by the red glow of his eyes.

"Zeratul.....Zeratul is responsible for the destruction of Aiur?"  Aldaris shook with fury.  "All this time....he acted as though..."

He glanced over at me, and I avoided his gaze.  Why in the crap didn't I keep my mouth shut?  Pssht.  I thought I could calm him down.  Yeah right.

"Maybe Starcraft is wrong....once we get to the Protoss missions, you can see if it's accurate or not-"

"Be silent!" he snarled, rising from his chair.  "I need no comfort from you, you misbegotten child of a degenerate race!"

In the most horrifying few seconds of my life, Aldaris charged out of his chair at me.  Only by falling over on the floor did I escape being strangled or something.  I don't care to speculate what Aldaris was planning to do, but my falling did seem to satisfy his need to punish something.  I cringed, waiting for something horrible to happen.

"Yes." he said, scornfully staring down at me.  "Writhe there, and never presume that you can ever understand what it means to lose all that you hold dear.  Your wretched world still hangs within the heavens -- be grateful for that."

My laptop beeped (thank God he hadn't knocked it over) and the projector blinked off.  The battery was out.  Saying nothing else, Aldaris paced out of the room, and from the way the door clicked and thunked after it closed, it was a reasonable guess that he'd locked it behind him.  I didn't waste any time.  Pulling out my USB cable and folding up my laptop, I repacked my survival bag (note to self, pack something for self-defense...) and got ready to go.  Well, actually there wasn't any "got ready" about it.  Once my bag was full and zipped up, all I had to do was sit there and hope to God that Aldaris really was going to send me back home.

I wasn't disappointed.  I hadn't sat there one full minute when the blue clouds started forming again.  I only started breathing again when my home appeared around me, and for several minutes I stood in the middle of my living room, trying to calm down.  Once I regained my senses, I immediately ran to get my laptop's power cord.  There was no way I was going to not tell Toby and John what had happened.

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